CapitalOne: The financial services company set up three innovation labs in New York, the Washington, D.C., area and San Francisco, all intentionally placed in the middle of technologically innovative cultures, according to CTO Monique Shivanandan. "We combine technology people, data analysts, marketing people, brand managers and product managers in the labs to be sure we're focused not just on cool technology but innovative products and services to delight the customer," Shivanandan says. She points out that the emphasis of the innovation lab approach is more about establishing an innovation "ecosystem" than it is about setting up a physical facility.
"You could get a conference room, put a paper sign up and designate it as 'the lab,' and you'll have a structure in place," she says. "Even with just a handful of people, you can foster a culture of creativity, as long as they're not operating in a vacuum but with the right folks across and outside of the business, to drive results that are valuable to the business and its customers."
MasterCard: The payment industry giant formed MasterCard Labs in 2010 as a global R&D arm focused on developing innovative payment solutions. Labs are located in New York, St. Louis, Dublin and Singapore. Additionally, MasterCard Labs works closely with business owners to spread the innovative spirit across the company, says Garry Lyons, chief innovation officer.
Grange Insurance: A core group of business and technology professionals meets monthly at the $1.3 billion insurer to brainstorm opportunities to move the business forward with new technology and then uses agile practices to explore the feasibility of ideas and bring them to fruition.
The group is purely focused on driving profitable growth, says Michael Fergang, CIO: "Every group has goals for continuous improvement, but we focus on new technologies that will help Grange differentiate itself in the marketplace." Because of their business acumen, Grange's technologists are in a prime position to link new technology trends with new opportunities, according to Fergang. "The business can't envision what can be done, because by themselves, they can't imagine the applicable technologies," he says.
Because of this skunk-works-type approach, passion is a requirement, Fergang says. "We will never have the capacity to support the demand," he says. "It takes the ingenuity of the individuals and their managers to reshuffle their work. We're not Google, where people get every fifth day to innovate."
How is the innovation group staffed?
Equinix: Rather than appointing someone as "the innovation guy," Lillie says, "we try to hire creative, idea-generating people." For instance, job candidates are asked during the interview process how they would solve particular business problems.
American Cancer Society: The organization's innovation steering committee includes senior leaders from marketing, operations, mission delivery and corporate communications. "I'm the only IT representative, and that was key to showing this wasn't just IT doing new things but a commitment to impacting the organization," Ferro says. Meanwhile, the core innovation team includes just three people, with an additional dozen or so employees from diverse functions and geographic areas rotating in and out of the group, each serving about a year.
"These are folks who live with functions like fundraising and the advocacy mission every day," Ferro says. "That diversity is one of the secret sauces to innovation." Workers from the rank and file, he says, tend to offer more radical ideas, while executives can be more risk-averse. The trick is capturing the best of both worlds, Ferro says. That means securing unquestioned support for innovation from the CEO on down. "That is a core tenet of innovation at ACS," he says.